Rediscovery, Renaissance, Revolution: Reflections on the East Coast Asian American Student Union

By Carla Navoa | KRCC staff

On February 25th, NAKASEC youth network member Justin Valas and I headed down to Durham, North Carolina, to lead a workshop at ECAASU 2012. Every year, college students attending schools on the East Coast convene to learn about and discuss issues affecting Asian Americans. This year, Duke University hosted the conference, which brought together over 800 students, young professionals, performers, and community organizers.  The scope of topics ranged from bridging the generational gap, challenging assumptions about Asian American gender roles and sexuality, and examining most importantly, the legacy of Asian American activism

In keeping with the conference theme of “Rediscovery, Renaissance, and Revolution,” our presentation entitled WE ARE: Emerging Voices of Undocumented APIA Youth in the Immigrant Rights Movement focused on revolutionizing the way Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) understand, engage with, and support undocumented members of our communities. We worked to create a safe space to de-stigmatize notions of being undocumented and to challenge the existing discourses around immigration that keep so many of our community members in the shadows.

Our goals were to convey the urgency of taking action as APIA youth – undocumented and documented allies alike – to reaffirm the APIA commitment to immigrant rights and to rediscover the voice that once clamored loudly for justice and equality for our communities. We stressed the value of sharing our stories publicly as a political tool for change.

About 15 students, a number of whom are currently active in DREAM Act work and “Eductation, Not Deportation” cases, participated in our workshop. The attendees expressed a genuine interest in learning more about how current immigration policies mirror the historical exclusion and policing of Asian immigrants in the U.S. We engaged in a critical dialogue about why so many immigrants become undocumented and explored the intersections of race, class, and labor. Finally, we discussed the importance of inter-ethnic, multi-racial coalition movements, while allowing those most affected to take leadership in the fight.

The most meaningful moment for me came at the end of the workshop when a Korean American student approached me and “came out” to me about her undocumented status. Although she spoke very hesitantly about her struggle to pay for college and to find a network of support, I was glad she voiced her concerns to me and overcame her initial anxieties. Justin and I both agreed that if we could reach at least one person during our workshop, we’ve accomplished our goal of empowering individual(s) to move towards collective action.